Sunday, August 26, 2012

Comparative Bounce-ology 101

Real Clear Politics' current Electoral College map shows Obama well ahead of Romney (221 to 181, with 136 too close to call). 270 electoral votes are needed to win, so Obama is way ahead, right?

Well, call me crazy, but I don't think so.

The states that, based on RCP's "average of polls", are too close to call are:

Colorado (9EV) where Obama leads by 1.6%
Florida (29EV) where Obama and Romney are tied
Iowa (6EV) where Obama leads by 1%
Michigan (16EV) where Obama leads by 3.8%
Missouri (10EV) where Romney leads by 4.3%
Nevada (6EV) where Obama leads by 4.2%
New Hampshire (4EV) where Obama leads by 3.5%
North Carolina (15EV) where Romney leads by 1%
Ohio (18EV) where Obama leads by 2%
Virginia (13EV) where Obama leads by 0.6%
Wisconsin (10EV) where Obama leads by 1.4%

According to RCP, then, in the states too close to call, Romney is now either ahead or within two percent of Obama in states having 100 electoral votes (Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia). And that is enough to win.

So, for Romney the issue is how to get that 2%. And that brings us to the conventions.

Candidates typically receive a surge in support immediately after their party's convention. One Gallup analysis in 2008 showed that, of 22 conventions between 1964 and 2004, only two candidates received no uptick in the polls: Democrats John Kerry (2004) and George McGovern (1972). Both of the two exceptions were cases where the candidate had been seriously damaged prior to the convention. That is not the case here.

According to the Gallup analysis, the median increase was 5 points. Sometimes this "bounce" fades, sometimes not. Based on a number of factors, I think that this year Romney's convention bounce will be substantially more than two percent greater than Obama's, and that it will be permanent. I also think that Obama's bounce will come in states where he is already substantially ahead, such as California (Obama up by 17.2%) and New York (Obama by a ridiculous 24.7%).

The poor economic performance of the country under Obama's policies is one large factor that will likely make Romney's convention bounce larger and provide it with staying power. By far the biggest economic issue is unemployment: With the unemployment rate at 8.3% three plus years after the stimulus bill, the burden is on Obama to convince people that his plan is better than Romney's. Obama told us that by now, the rate would be 5.6% with the stimulus plan. Even more devastating to Obama is the fact that he claimed that, by now, the unemployment rate would be just 6% without the stimulus. His plan going forward is apparently more of the same thing that has not worked very well so far: More incentives, more regulation, more subsidies for favored industries and favored players. That's a mixed bag, at best. Some of those things, such as the proposed incentives help job formation (at least in some cases and for as long as the incentives last), and some hurt, such as the additional regulations and expensive health care costs imposed by Obamacare and other initiatives. But in my opinion, the huge deficits the US is running are the biggest obstacle to job formation. If you can fix that without killing the incentive to invest in new employees, you will be able to relax and watch the economy expand rapidly. Obama's plan does not fix the deficit. Romney says his plan will. Advantage: Romney.

Another factor which I believe will make the Romney convention bounce larger and permanent is that Obama will not be able to point to any domestic or foreign policy achievements from his first term beyond killing bin Laden and passing Obamacare. The first of those is a positive for Obama, the second, not so much.

Other than killing bin Laden and conducting the drone war, our foreign policy is a disaster area. The Middle East is in flames. Iran appears to be on the verge of producing a bomb. Russia has reverted to a dictatorship. Europe and China both appear to be on the brink of extremely serious economic (and therefore political) trouble. Having won in Iraq, we left and are now without influence there. Afghanistan may well be lost shortly after we leave. In South America, clowns like Chavez other more serious left wing politicians such as Argentina's de Kirchner are on the rise. Obama seems to think that all these difficulties will melt away if we do things that will make our enemies like us. Unfortunately, the things he has in mind will (a) not make our enemies like us (nothing will make them like us) and (b) make us less reliable to our friends and allies.

Finally, wonder of wonders, for the remainder of the campaign, it looks like Romney will be able to outspend what was, as of two years ago, the greatest fund raising machine in the history of the world.

These are obviously not the only factors involved, and of course anything can happen between now and the election (see Akin, Todd). But I think Romney's will be in very good shape following the conclusion of both conventions.

Of course, what do I know about bounce-ology? I am just some guy in sitting in his living room in my pajamaspecking away at a keyboard.

Update: OK, it didn't take long for someone to come out with the opposite take. Zero Bounce. Of course, almost everything Pollak says about the difficulties facing Republicans applies to the Democrats as well.

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